What began as a way to meet women online nearly ended in tragedy for a young Metro Vancouver man last month who says he became a "slave" to a scam that's come to be known as "sextortion."
Sam — not his real name— considered taking his own life after scammers threatened to post a video of him having a sexual encounter with a woman online if he didn't pay them cash.
He comes from a religious family in an ethnic community.
"My biggest fear was if this video got out, [I'd be] ruined. Not just my life, my family's life. I come from a family where this kind of thing is just a big no-no," he says.
"Suicide went through my head."
Online encounter escalates
It all started one night in March when Sam was in his parents' home, using the internet on his iPad.
"I was in my room. I was very curious. I was bored. I was on Google and I came across this website."
When Sam clicked on BeNaughty.com, he quickly spotted the profile of an attractive, blond woman in her mid-20s who claimed to live in New York. After some initial online chat, she lured him off the site, suggesting a direct Skype video call where they could see each other.
"We started Skyping," he says, "and she started exposing herself right away on webcam."
Sam says the woman tried to get him to do the same.
"I was very reluctant. And eventually she had enough and she said, 'You know what? If you're not willing to do it, I'm going to please another guy.' And that's what got me. So I did what she wanted."
Sam says what he didn't know was that the video from his webcam was being recorded. There was a brief pause in their Skype call, and then he suddenly saw his actions played back to him on his iPad screen.
That's when he realized he was about to be a victim of "sextortion."
"I was watching myself. And she demanded money from me. She said, 'If you don't give me what I want, then I'm going to send this video throughout all social media in the area that you're from.'"
"I was in absolute shock, just a state of overwhelming fear and anger ... I was so angry with myself."
As the humiliation set in, so did the panic.
"At that point, death would have been better than what I was going through. I swear to God, I wished I was dead."
The scammer demanded $600 and instructed Sam to go to the nearest MoneyMart and transfer the cash to someone in the Philippines. She told Sam to take his iPad along and Skype the images, so she could see the clerk and watch the transaction unfold.
"She could see everything I was doing," said Sam. "She was listening the entire time. I was a slave for this person."
The 19-year-old emptied his small bank account, but the scammer kept messaging him and said she was waiting for his next paycheque.
"She had the hook in," he said. "I would reply instantly with the fear she would post [the video]."
Sam isn't the only person who's been fooled online.
Last month, around the same time Sam was being scammed, Richmond RCMP issued a public warning over the rising number of so-called sextortion cases locally.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, based in North Bay, Ont., says the problem is growing.
"It's gone from once or twice a month to dozens a month" said spokesman Daniel Williams. "We get one to five per cent of what we think is out there. I imagine there are a lot of victims out there who've paid big money that will never come to light."
One of Canada's most high-profile victim of sextortion was 15-year-old Amanda Todd of Port Coquitlam, B.C., who took her own life after an online tormentor posted images of her exposing her breasts.
Sam said he now understands.
"It's honestly opened my eyes in a big [way]."
Sam said that in desperation, he found the website ScamSurvivors.com and followed its advice, such as cancelling his credit cards and deleting his social media accounts. His sextortion tormentors appear to have lost interest in him, he said.
Sam, and the experts, share the same advice.
"Be very cautious online," ScamSurvivors.com warns. "There are a lot of evil people in this world.
"Don't give into their demands, because these scammers, they feed off the power. Once they know they can control you, that's it. You're done."
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